What do rockets in skies over Israel portend?

Israeli soldier in front of graffiti

The firing on Thursday of two Fajr-5 missiles from Gaza towards Tel Aviv, followed on Friday by the targeting of Jerusalem with an as yet unidentified rocket type, is a potent sign of altered strategic realities in the Middle East.

It may also prove to have been a new milestone on the road away from a comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue and towards perpetual instability in the region.

As for the rockets themselves, they landed without harming anyone and the fact that air raid sirens sounded in Tel Aviv for the first time since Saddam Hussein's Scud missile attacks of 1991 is something of a red herring.

The really significant developments are the ability of Israel's most implacable enemies (Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon) to bombard its populated centre, and the emergence of Gaza as a semi-independent entity able to garner both diplomatic and materiel support.

It has been apparent since the 2006 Lebanon war, when Hezbollah rained thousands of rockets down on northern Israel, that Israel's old calculations about using buffer zones to ensure the security of its citizens were pretty much redundant.

Now it is clear that the old notions that dominated military thinking there for decades, about retaining the lands conquered in 1967 for "strategic depth", no longer apply.

During the brief 2009 invasion of Gaza there was talk of re-occupying the northern part of the coastal strip in order to push the rocket firers further back, but now the Palestinians have obtained far longer range weapons a few kilometres either way would make no difference.

Could this actually help peace-making in that it might convince Israel that holding the West Bank is not so important? Do not expect it, for this new situation seems set to harden attitudes on both sides.

In the hands of Hamas or Hezbollah missiles can now hit most of Israel and the potential effects should not be under-estimated. These non-state actors now have the ability to close Israel's one proper international airport, and in response to Thursday's rocket firing some airlines have already been talking about suspending their services.

Map showing potential range of rocket attacks from Gaza

While the ability to bombard the "Zionist enemy" in this way creates great excitement and support for Hamas or Hezbollah on the Arab street, one can hardly lose sight of the fact that these two movements will not acknowledge Israel's right to exist, even if the Palestinian one has toyed with the idea of long term truces.

For the Israelis the last few years have seen increasing insecurity as groups in Gaza progressed from home-made Qassam rockets with a range of several kilometres through to the newly acquired Iranian-developed Fajr-5 with its range of up to 75km.

Hezbollah, which used this missile in 2006, has since acquired even longer range weapons including, persistent reports from the intelligence agencies indicate, Scud missiles.

All of this means that the frequent call to the air raid shelters, and disruption of school or economic activity that were once limited to towns like Sderot in the south of Israel or Qiryat Shmona in the north could now become general through most of the country.

Israel's 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, followed by the ouster of the Mubarak government in Egypt has allowed more advanced weapons, including shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles to reach the Palestinian Territory. The blockade has eased, allowing distinguished visitors such as the Emir of Qatar or Prime Minister Hisham Qandil of Egypt, who was there on Friday morning, to enter the Gaza Strip.

Following the election of a Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt neither Israel nor the United States that could formerly rely on President Hosni Mubarak to maintain the "quarantine" of Gaza in the interests, in their view, of regional security, have been able to hold sway.

One result is the increasing self-confidence of the Hamas government in the territory under the leadership of Ismail Haniya.

Will this sense of independence and strength help or hinder reconciliation with the Palestinians under the secular leadership of Fatah in the West Bank?

The new Egyptian government has tried hard to convince the warring factions that healing this rift is the essential precursor to a meaningful peace process, but the history of this feud between Palestinian factions suggests neither that it will be easy to resolve nor that it helps much when one party feels it has the upper hand.

So those rockets falling in southern Tel Aviv could constitute another grim portent in the Middle East.

Hamas may become less amenable to compromise with Fatah, and the Israelis in their air raid shelters, seeing increasingly well-armed and implacable foes on their borders, could retreat further into a siege mentality.

Mark Urban Article written by Mark Urban Mark Urban Diplomatic and defence editor, BBC Newsnight

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  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    The West Bank belongs to Isreal, they won it fair and square in war. When you attack a country then loose you have to accept this.

    The only way to resolve this situation is for Isreal to do the right thing and occupy Gaza and govern the people there for the next 30 or so years, long enough to defanaticise at least one generation.

  • Comment number 90.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    People who really support and sympathize with Palestinians,should really support establishing independent Palestine,instead of supporting terrorists like Hamas,who by their actions,make Israeli army withdrawal,and by extension Palestinian independence impossible

    If Israel leave West Bank, and Hamas will turn it to another Gaza, will Israel have more support do defend itself from it?

  • Comment number 88.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    The only hope for peace is for Israel to accept that nothing is to be gained from continuing its occupation of territories captured in 1968 and for the United States to drop their longstanding opposition to a nuclear free zone in the Middle East which would include Israel. The alternative is bleak for all sides in the conflict.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    There are over 200+ UN and HRC resolutions against Israel.

    Israel is bent on pushing this to a tipping point, whereby they can release
    the full might of their milatry power, including a tactical nuclear strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

    When will the US bring them to task, and say enough is enough?

    Israel can never win this conflict

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    The idea to give up the west bank because it may bring peace with those who do not to recognize the right of existence, who want to destroy Israel and are able to hit it anywhere with there more advanced rockets seems to be lacking in some elementary logic by the author.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Mario1987- its the mentality of your comment at #18 that gives less support for Israel among people around the world and much more support (and sympathy) for the Palestinians.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    In all respects,this is going to lead to an all out war. Israel for its survival and Hamas and Hezbollah for its martyrdom. There will be no winners only misery for mankind. I say this, because I see every possibility of Israel going for Iran's throat- the source of all the rockets of Hamas and Hezbollah.

  • Comment number 82.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    First: missles falling on Tel Aviv are not a red herring. They are causing significant economic and social disruption - with a million and a half people having to spend their nights and days in bomb shelters, and businesses closed.

    Second: buffer zones work. if the West Bank was under Hammas control - it's only a few kilometres to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and Netanya - they could use catapults!

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    Eddy, as I recollect Jordan was not engaged in the Yom Kippur war of 1973. It was 1967 that Jordan partook in a major war with Israel.

    The conflict goes back a very long time (pre-2nd World War) with the Arab uprising in the 1930's as a milestone, the Arab assault at the formation is the Israeli state 1948 as another milestone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    I think that the time to follow F1Fan's recommendation to adopt the NI route has passed as it is difficult to see what would make up the Palestinian State. A picture is worth a 1000 words http://www.veteranstoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Israel.Palestine-Land-grab.jpg

  • Comment number 78.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    The people of Gaza need to learn from the IRA. Put down their rockets and stop indiscriminately murdering innocent Israelis, then adopt political discussion within a political forum. Who knows if they did this in 20-30 years they could have their own state. In the meantime, Stop murdering innocent Israelis!

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Hamas are the real aggressors in this situation. Human Rights Watch have denounced Hamas for human rights violations against Palestinians. Israel has had a peace with Jordan for 18 years with the last major war 1973. In 1970 Syria invaded Israel going to the aid of Jordan. Makes you wonder who the real aggressor is! Iran & Syria using the muppets of hamas. No concerns for the Palestinian people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    Hamas is not interested in a durable peace. It has a Islamic agenda to keep alive, doesn't matter how many Palestinians and Jews, most civilians, will die for this.Land dispute in Palestine is 99% a false flag, used by Hamas to mask its true intentions. Yes, it is a painful game for all people involved, but this is Hamas and it is hard to find something to change it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    I don't understand why peoples r so biased toward poor Palestinians, Palestinians have seen suffering occupation Land & water grabs, family n farm destruction under the Israeli illegal occupation and lastly Israelis threw their legitimate democratically elected govt in prison n turned Gaza into prison camp, as far as I know holocaust has nothing to do with Palestinians so y shud they suffer ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    A desperately sad, endless cycle of confrontation with no end in sight. What has Hamas actually achieved for the people of Gaza? What has Israel achieved by the continued occupation of West Bank? Answer, an endless cycle of violence handed down to the next generation on each side. What a legacy to inherit for their children who will one day say, Is this all you have left us?

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    Why not just Shift Israel into Alaska, Free Palestine and let the palestinian refugees go back to their original homes.


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